Playoff hockey was in full effect at 84 Lumber Arena on Friday evening, and a solemn tone filled the arena later, despite a record being set during the game — the top-seeded Robert Morris Colonials (21-11-4) fell short, 4-3, against the eighth-seeded Bentley Falcons.
“How do you change things? Do you panic? Is this a panic?” said Colonials head coach Derek Schooley. “Last time I checked, you have to win two games to win the series, and we’re acting like the season’s over. Yeah, we have to do things better, we have to make sure we do things the right way. But you can’t panic, or you might as well hand them the series.”
Schooley conceded following the game that they were beat by a “very good hockey line.” Every goal for Bentley was scored by their top line, a couple going through traffic and a couple on some easier-to-see shots.
The most egregious of their goals had goaltender Terry Shafer high and dry in the crease with just under four minutes remaining in the second period. Andrew Gladiuk went backhand to forehand and roofed the puck over Shafer’s glove, while he swung wildly in hopes to make the save.
Shafer managed to stop 24-of-28 shots on the evening. He had two goals go by in the first period, where he seemed to only react on reflex alone, not even seeing the puck. Following those, it seemed he just couldn’t get a handle on the game, and the defense wasn’t helping as much.
The Colonials’ offense had a strong start, however. It was only later in the game that things began to crumble around them. The biggest story of the game early on was that of senior Zac Lynch. Following a penalty to Dan Leavens, he made his mark with a shorthanded goal — a category he leads the NCAA in.
He stole the puck at the blue line, drove in toward the net and deked by two defenders before being one-on-one with Bentley netminder Gabe Antoni. He went forehand to backhand, wrapping around him and forcing a sprawling save attempt. Lynch held for another second though, and with a forehand shot, potted the first goal of the game.
That goal marked his 151st point as a Colonial, passing Cody Wydo for most all-time.
“At this point, it’s tough to answer anything about that. At this point, it doesn’t matter,” said Lynch, solemnly, like an old man reminiscing. “At the time, it was special. Maybe later on it’ll be, but right now we’re just focusing on winning tomorrow.”
In terms of the playoff part of the evening, the aggression was high, with both teams in a life-or-death attitude. With just 18 seconds remaining in the opening frame, Chase Golightly managed a hit in the corner on Tanner Jago. It became four-on-four violence (both players wear number four), and matching minors were announced when Jago seemed to body-slam Golightly after the hit.
Timmy Moore scored midway through the second to tie things up for the Colonials, but Gladiuk managed to take back the lead before the time expired. Into the third, the excitement became clearly visible in the arena.
With just over five minutes remaining, the Colonials made a mad rush with the puck. Eventually it found Zac Lynch at the left side, who gave it up to Greg Gibson at the left face-off dot. He swung it over to Matt Cope, who fired a shot. It was blocked, but the rebound was corralled and fired again past a confused and diving goaltender.
On the celebration, Cope was tackled and seemed to be injured. He crawled to the bench and Timmy Moore took his spot on the line for a shift until his return at the end of the game.
Only 38 seconds later, Bentley managed to take the lead again with a shot from the point by Max French.
“They popped a guy we didn’t recognize him as being high, and we have to make sure that we cover him better,” said Schooley. “Gibson, Lynch and Cope had a big shift. I go back with Dorowicz and Denham, who are very reliable. I mean, you have to make sure that our older guys can get the job done on a shift. That’s one of our key points of emphasis, no goals on the next shift. Unfortunately, we gave up one and we have to be sure we don’t do that. They had a pushback every time we scored, and hats off to them.”
The 4-3 score would hold for the remainder of the game, despite the excitement near the end with Zac Lynch.
Lynch took the puck with a toe drag through the slot, fired, and hit the blocker of Antoni, who had already gone down early, but recovered enough to make the stop. Antoni stopped 45-of-48 shots.
“I would think that he would trade the milestone for a win, that’s for sure,” said Schooley. “I think he’d like the puck back on his stick there at the end with about ten seconds left. I would like him to extend that even farther.”
The Colonials will continue their playoff series against the Falcons on Saturday with puck drop at 7:05, and a win Saturday would force a third game on Sunday at the same time.
“Every game is an elimination game from here on out, it’ll be good for us to get into that,” said Schooley. “We’ll draw on our veteran leadership, we’ll draw on our seniors. And if a team comes in and wins two games in our building, then they deserve to advance and we don’t.”